Zambia - rough Africa for the person who doesn't like the "packaged" feel of more "developed" countries in Africa like Kenya and seemingly the first world oasis that is South Africa.
I have been meaning to put down in words what my thoughts are of Africa for quite some time, but for some reason it never felt like a compelling enough moment. Sitting under mango trees or lounging lake side or watching the world's last wilderness for wild animals seemed to get in the way of some serious typing.
So here we are in Zambia - darkest Africa's safest destination. Just below the DRC (Democratic (Ha-ha) Republic of Congo) which is in a permanent state of civil war and to the right of Angola (who are rebuilding after decades of war).
So are we typing this while bush camping in the wilderness, lions roaring in the background while nervous antelope run around looking for the nearest Bush (thank you Obama!) to hide? No.
Believe it or not we are sitting poolside with Wifi in a backpackers campsite in Livingstone - adventure capital of Africa. Boards with specials advertise everything from skydiving to micro-light trips over Victoria Falls (one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World) or the ultimate chiropractic package which includes bungee jumping, bridge swinging, abseiling and repelling off the edge of Vic Falls. This is not for the faint of heart or light of wallet as most activities start at USD 115.
So this seems the least likely place in Africa where I would feel the need to share my thoughts about my continent. But as with most things in Africa "time" is not something you work to, it's more something you simply have loads of.Heard the saying "Africa time"? - it basically means it gets done when it gets done. I prefer the more poetic saying which compares Africa to our Northern cousins and their time obsessed lives: "Europe holds the clock, but Africa has the time"
Self driving through Africa is an enormous privilege and there is not a single day that we don't pinch ourselves while we're sitting in the car seeing the African landscape go by. We also get to experience things a bit differently as we have time to simply let our thoughts go without needing to worry where the bus will stop, or where we'll stay or find food or get the next bus and how our stuff will fit in the backpacks. We simply live at 80kph (roads permitting) and see things as we pass them. So here are a few observations we have picked up along the way:
1)Africa is a fertile land with enough food.
2)Africa has friendly people who get really excited because you're visiting their country
3)Some African cities have some of the best (cheap and cheerful) public transport we've ever experienced - not once did we wait for a bus or matatu (mini-bus) in Nairobi.
4)African cities and rural areas are clean and the people well fed and happy looking - don't know where Unicef and those Food Programme people find their photos of starving Africans waiting to be "saved".
5)Nobody in Africa likes NGOs (Non-Government Organizations who are set up to "help" poor Africans out of their misery by spending 70% of your donations on advertisements featuring emaciated fly covered children looking forlornly into the camera with subtitles like "Every 68 seconds a child like Nambo dies because you're not giving USD 0.60 per month - what if Nambo was your child?" Another example is the Red Cross who keep 50% of all funds they receive tucked away in a bank account where it obviously isn't being spent on Nambo and the other children and people of Africa.
6)Everybody who works outside the NGO money machine (it's a business like any other controlled by people who are holding on to "hardship posting" perks like mansions, servants, massive 4x4s and huge salaries) is of the opinion that the only people who will solve African problems are Africans.
7)African roads are awesome - if they're built by the Chinese.
8)African ministers and politicians make more money than their counterparts in Europe - and seemingly don't need to do a lot for it. African people are tired of this as they work hard to make their living.
9)There are no mainstream companies operating in Africa - aside from South African companies - because people simply don't have the money to spend on anything except food and basics. Yes, Coca Cola is the exception.
10)The best travelers we have met on our trip have been in Africa. This place attracts the best people from around the world looking to find something or be part of something.
So that is the short list of what I can remember right now.
What does it mean? To be very blunt: that Africa will stay "behind" and lag Westernized economies where everything is geared towards more efficiency by creating systems and programmes that allow you to be more productive. This gives you more time to spend on being even more industrious and "value added" to your company or business. Then other companies and smart people invent ways for you to "save time" by inventing products and services that make things faster and more automated. All the while you're earning more money for producing more output and then buying more stuff to give your life more meaning because you simply don't have the time to just sit and enjoy the fact that you're sitting for the sake of it.
Our way of life is probably not sustainable for the next 500 years. Africa's way of life is sustainable indefinitely.
Indeed, Europe holds the clock and has the stuff. But Africa has the only thing we all crave and never get - the time to simply do something without rushing to the next thing.
Problem is that once you've enjoyed the nicer things in life it's difficult to go back to living simply. Unless of course you live out of the back of a pudding coloured Pajero going from town to town. Living simply… what a novel thought.
So who got it right in the end? Too soon to tell, but my vote is with the Africans.